Whew...first of all, major apologies for the lack of posts 'round these parts this week. I had to go out of town on bidness, and, anyway... it's over, thank God.
First things first. Commentor "LegendsNeverDie" made a damn good point in the comments section of the open thread this week. This season is far from over, and while we can realistically rule out a Super Bowl based on logic, we can still maintain high hopes regardless of the circumstances. Heck, people still show up at Browns games, and that's about as lost of a cause as you can get.
Before we jump into breaking down the Carolina game this week (which I like our chances much better than I have a lot of other games this season), let's take stock in a few of the positive things the Rams have going for them. Now, I've never been a big "Chicken Soup for the Disgruntled Man" fan, but there are some real signs of progress for the Rams this season compared to last, in spite of the similar records.
Jim Haslett is no Larry Marmie
We can fault Haslett some for the glaring weakness on defense. His play calling, has at times, been questionable, and a few easily read blitzes got picked up for big plays. However, the defense just isn't that talented. The line lacks size and speed. Only Leonard "vehicular manslaughter" Little, carries much of an impact, and he has made a good one. But one man does not a defensive line make. In the defensive backfield, injuries and inexperience have had more of an impact than lack of talent and play calling. Tye Hill's play makes his rookie status clear, but there's also enough there to think that he can grow into a quality starter.
Through the draft, free agency, or trades, the Rams can put a priority on getting a defensive tackle and a top teir d-back. That will go a long way to shoring up some of the defense's holes. It's not a miracle cure by any means, but it can go a long way to changing things. A couple key additions (providing Georgia lets the team use some of her spare change) to build around a solid linebacker corps, and the Rams defense outgrows its liability status.
Strong Offensive Core
Bulger entering the prime of his career, and, thanks in part to better play calling from Linehan, it shows. Steven Jackson is just getting into what looks to be a pretty solid NFL career, and he's got the talent to stick around for a long time. Torry Holt is a number one receiver on par with any in the league, and he jsut turned 30 this summer. How long did Jerry Rice play? Right there, you have a solid core of skill players with a bright future that lots of NFL teams would love to have.
The offensive line, now hurting due to injuries, is young and talented too. Incognito and Barron have just three years NFL experience between them. They do need to get a little better at reading counts and maintaining discipline, something that comes naturally with age and experience, but they're both talented young lineman. Pace, at the all important left tackle position, will sit out the rest of the season, but should be healed and rested for next season. With 10 years in the league, he's got a few good years left.
The best part about the core of offensive talent is that the Rams don't have to expend much capital to replace any of it in the near future, meaning resources can be devoted to shoring up the defense with some key acquisitions between this season and next.
There are a lot of 5-4 and lot a 4-5 teams in the NFC this season, so the Wild Card still sits on the table, waiting for someone to grab it, grab it like a drunken worker from the squeezably soft Charmin factory at Hooters, or something like that. It's still to early to cutoff the Rams' hand a toss them out of the race.
Now, let's all go enjoy the big college football game today, and maybe try and identify a future Ram or two.